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Monthly Archives: July 2015

Foreign Policy Report Calls Attention to Religious Freedom’s Economic Benefits

31 Jul, 2015

Toward Religion-Attentive Foreign PolicyReligious Freedom & Business President Brian Grim contributed to a new trans-Atlantic report calling for foreign policy to be attentive to religious freedom’s positive contributions to social stability, political moderation, and economic development.

The report calls policy makers to “recognise that religious freedom is a strategic mainstream foreign policy priority, not merely a human rights issue There is a increasing awareness on both sides of the Atlantic that religious freedom is a strategic issue, integrally connected to a range of positive indicators. A growing body of quantitative research* is finding strong positive correlations between religious freedom and social stability, political moderation, and economic development.”

This was one of 15 policy recommendations in “Toward Religion-Attentive Foreign Policy: A Report on an Anglo-American Dialogue” (Editors: Judd Birdsall, Jane Lindsay & Emma Tomalin, July 2015). The report summarises key insights from the project Toward Better International Policy which was comprised of two Anglo-American dialogues organised by the Centre for Religion and Public Life at the University of Leeds, the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University, and the Institute for Global Engagement. These dialogues were funded by the British Council under the ‘Bridging Voices’ programme.

“In light of these findings, British and American policymakers and diplomats should not dismiss religious freedom as a nice-to-have human right, an issue on the margins of serious foreign policy.

We recommend that religious freedom promotion be woven into mainstream foreign policy formulation and implementation. And officials working directly on religious freedom issues should continue to utilise the latest research in developing strategic arguments for religious freedom, tolerance and pluralism.

These sorts of arguments are particularly important when engaging governments and societal actors that are suspicious or openly hostile to human rights discourse. On such occasions it may be advantageous to avoid human rights language altogether, as it may be counterproductive. Arguments framed around economic and political self-interest may be much more effective.”

* For socio-economic impacts see Grim, B.J., G. Clark, and R. Snyder (2014) “Is Religious Freedom Good for Business?: A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (Volume 10: Article 4); Grim, B.J. and R. Finke (2011) The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the 21st Century, Cambridge University Press and Grim, B.J. and R. Finke (2007) “Religious Persecution in Cross-National Context: Clashing Civilizations or Regulated Economies?” American Sociological Review 72:633-658.

Iran is Economically Missing Out by Repressing Baha’i Faith

31 Jul, 2015

Bruce Rahmani photoby Bruce Rahmani

In this “Leaders Speak!” edition, U.S. entrepreneur Bruce Rahmani argues that Iran is missing a great resource for economic growth by repressing the country’s largest religious minority – the Baha’is. For instance, one noted Baha’i industrialist started Iran’s first taxi business, brought Pepsi-Cola to Iran, and opened Iran’s first TV station. 

Speaking as a man of faith and a man of business, I find important synergies between the two. My religion has instilled in me strong personal and community values, which have only strengthened my business practices, contributing to my goals as an entrepreneur and citizen. But there are places in the world that deny people both religious and economic freedom.

When I came from Iran to the United States, after spending three years as a student in the UK, I was able to build a new life for myself here and eventually open, with a partner, my own business. Our business employs about 100 people, doing sales, design, installation and service of heating and air conditioning systems in residential and commercial properties in Virginia, Washington D.C and Maryland. I have been fortunate to find success in business, and I feel lucky, as an Iranian-American, that I’m able to contribute to the growth and well-being of my community. But in Iran, my fellow Baha’is are not so lucky.

Iran Map RepressionAs members of Iran’s largest religious minority community, Baha’is are banned from higher education and most professions, and often experience arbitrary arrest and detention. Yet, they have also shown a remarkable entrepreneurial spirit. Often, because of the restrictions placed on them, their only way to earn a living is to open shops and other small businesses. In this way, they have been able to support themselves and their families, and to contribute to the economic vibrancy of their communities.

Yet, the Iranian government persists in harassing these Baha’i business-owners. A recent spate of shop closings signals a worrying trend. Official crackdowns, extending from late 2014 until 2015, have meant increased hardship for the Baha’i community – which is already facing severe and persistent abuse by the government.

Imagine walking up to your storefront one morning and being confronted with the following sign: “This commercial unit has been sealed owing to violation of trading laws. The owner of this commercial unit should report to the police.” You frantically think back on all your actions over the previous months. You have been scrupulous in upholding the law. But you also know, as a member of a persecuted religious minority, that the authorities can fabricate any excuse to throw you in prison. Here, in bold black letters, barring customers from entering your store, is just such an excuse.

Bahai shops closedSigns of this nature have greeted many Baha’i business owners in recent months. According to reports, Iranian government officials sealed over 80 Baha’i-owned shops in Rafsanjan, Sari, and Kerman. The reason for these closings is highly suspect: the owners had temporarily suspended business hours in observance of a Baha’i holy day. Some businesses were permitted to resume operations, but not without further harassment.

These bullying tactics are especially damaging to Baha’is. It is one of the tenants of the Baha’i Faith that adherents cannot recant their beliefs, or claim to belong to another religion, even to protect their lives. Baha’is in Iran, despite efforts to control or convert them, have been steadfast in upholding their peaceful rights to freedom of conscience. They don’t recant and they don’t bend to subtle or overt pressure. They never respond with violence and they don’t seek political power. Instead, they obey both the law of the land and the law of their conscience. As punishment, they may be arrested or imprisoned. Their property and burial sites are often destroyed or desecrated. And Baha’i businesses are subject to arbitrary closure.

Such a repressive environment not only harms individuals. It is destructive to the entire social fabric. We know that small businesses drive opportunity and growth. Thus, the Iranian government must do better, not only for moral reasons, but also for pragmatic ones, as the Iranian government is actually hurting its own economy by discriminating against Baha’is. Over the decades, Baha’is have shown their desire and determination to overcome government attempts to crush their spirit and deny them educations and livelihoods, and have found ingenious ways to contribute to Iran’s economic and cultural life.

As early as the 1900s, Baha’is in Iran were key innovators in the fields of business, public health and interfaith relations. In those days, most people went to bathhouses to relax, socialize, and, in theory, get clean. But infectious disease was common, since water was changed infrequently. Baha’is were banned from public bathhouses once their religion became known. Instead of protesting, they showed their entrepreneurial spirit, opening bathhouses – with new, cleaner technology like showers – that welcomed people of all faiths. Throughout the twentieth century, many of Iran’s Baha’is continued to find success in business and contribute enormously to their country’s development. One noted industrialist started Iran’s first taxi business, brought Pepsi-Cola to Iran, and opened Iran’s first TV station.

With the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the opportunities available to Baha’is were dramatically curtailed. Still, most Baha’is want to stay in Iran and contribute to the advancement of their country. Despite longstanding persecution, they feel deep bonds to their culture and heritage. Sometimes, however, staying is not an option. For various reasons, including personal and family safety, some Baha’is choose to leave. This Iranian Baha’i diaspora provides further proof of what Baha’is are capable of: all over the world, Iranian Baha’is establish businesses, from carpet shops to high-tech start-ups, increasing prosperity in their adopted homelands. Baha’is in Iran ask for nothing more than the same opportunity – and the Iranian government would do well to welcome Baha’i businesses, rather than shuttering them.

Leaders-SpeakThe world’s superpowers have shown great dedication in working out a nuclear deal with Iran. The same commitment and global willpower must be evinced when human rights and livelihoods are persistently and unjustly threatened. Business can be a tremendous force for social good, and protecting religious freedom in Iran – including that of religious minorities like Baha’is – can greatly increase the diversity and strength of Iranian business. It’s long past time for the Iranian government to ensure that all of its citizens, including Baha’is, can freely contribute to the prosperity of their country.

See more “Leaders Speak!” entries.

MBA’s, the faith factor and emerging markets

25 Jul, 2015

MBAs-WEFDear Friends and Colleagues,

In a World Economic Forum (WEF) article, Chris Seiple & I argue that business schools are not offering courses that equip their graduates to engage and capitalize on the role that the faith factor is playing and will play in emerging markets.

We therefore offer five principles for shaping an elective course, if not a concentration, that business school deans and professors might consider as they prepare entrepreneurs for doing business in a world where the influence of the faith factor will only grow (and where peace is dependent on interfaith understanding & appreciation).

We look for your reactions, thoughts & suggestions as we develop this more fully into programs for business schools – you can leave comments on the WEF site.

Thank you for your support and interest.

Brian Grim, President

From Washington DC to the Economist to World Economic Forum – RFBF has impact

17 Jul, 2015

RFBF-impactPRESS RELEASE, Washington DC – The impact of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation continues to grow. This past week saw the release of the Foundation’s new resource for businesses to include respect for freedom of religion or belief into their mission statements and corporate documents. The resource was launched at the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

RFBF President Brian Grim also discussed the Foundation’s initiatives at a private briefing at the State Department for the U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein.

This past week saw work of RFBF Senior Fellow Pasquale Annicchino featured in the Economist. The article discusses a new global force fighting liberal social mores and promoting traditional family values – the United Nations. Surprised? Here’s the story.

Recently, on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda-setting blog, RFBF board member, Chris Seiple, and RFBF’s Grim published a call for business schools to offer courses on the faith factor in the economy. The article observes that very few business schools are offering courses that equip their graduates to engage and capitalize on the role that the faith factor is playing and will play in emerging markets. The article lays out five principles for shaping an elective course, if not a concentration, that business school deans and professors might consider as they prepare entrepreneurs for doing business in a world where the influence of the faith factor will only grow.  MBAs-WEF

The Foundation’s work was also discussed at a high level event at Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Project, which also featured Judge Ken Starr, Congressman Keith Ellison, USCIRF Commissioner and Chair Katrina Lantos Swett, and Congressman Frank Wolf. You can see some of the writing that lead up to the event below.

Response to President Obama on Countering Violent Extremism,” Brian Grim calls for greater socio-economic freedom for religious minorities in Western societies as an effective way to counter radicalization and religious extremism.

Help Me to Stay,” Congressman Frank Wolf calls for greater US intervention to put an end to the persecution of Christian religious minorities in the Middle East.

Iraq: International Religious Freedom and Women’s Experiences on the Extremist Battlefield,” Engy Abdelkader analyzes the intersection of international religious freedom and global women’s rights by examining the violence committed by ISIS against women in Iraq.

The Women Justice Ginsburg Forgot,” Helen Alvaré discusses the relationship between religious freedom and women’s rights in the United States following the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

Foundation to Address Concerning U.S. Trends in Religious Freedom

10 Jul, 2015

FAC_SOFA15_infographic-smallDear Friends & Colleagues,

Two new surveys suggest that the state of religious freedom in the United States is a matter of concern. One study finds that only 19% of American adults recognize that the bedrock protection for religious freedom is contained in the First Amendment. Another finds that nearly half of Americans consider that U.S. Christians are facing the same levels of discrimination as religious minorities.

To address these concerning trends, on July 13th I’ll participate in a high level meeting at the Newseum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center, which carried out the first study, accompanied by two of the Foundation’s new research fellows, Christine Malarkey and Pablo Talavera.

I will present the foundation’s new initiative to provide sample language that businesses can use in their corporate documents and policies to ensure that freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) is respected by the company in its external and internal dealings.

Corporate ResolutionsThis new discussion is intended to move away from recent heated debates that saw business leaders speaking in opposition to a religious freedom restoration act in Indiana and several other states. The foundation’s initiative instead takes a positive approach, arguing that religious orientation, just like other identities, must not be a basis for discrimination in the workplace.   

Thank you for your support and interest. 

Brian Grim

President